Sightsavers stories

Transforming education for every child

In Nigeria and Kenya, two innovative education projects are enabling children with disabilities to reach their potential.

A teacher in Nigeria outs her arm on a student's shoulders as they stand at the blackboard.

Sightsavers is leading two key education projects in Kenya and Nigeria as part of the Inclusive Futures Disability Inclusive Development programme.

The SMILE project in Nigeria was developed and is implemented by 15 representatives from the government at federal, state and local levels, and five representatives from organisations of people with disabilities, with oversight by Sightsavers and additional support from the Institute of Development Studies.

The inclusive early childhood development and education project in Kenya brings together consortium partners including Humanity and Inclusion, Sense International, the Institute of Development Studies and Sightsavers.

We also work with national and county ministries of education, local and national organisations of people with disabilities, and government education agencies.

What is Inclusive Futures?

The Inclusive Futures Disability Inclusive Development programme, funded by UK aid, aims to ensure accessible learning is available for all.

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Sightsavers and Inclusive Futures logo, with the text 'Working as part of Inclusive Futures'.
A teacher in Nigeria speaks to a child in the classroom. She's wearing a vibrant pink headscarf.

The SMILE project, Nigeria

A teacher in Nigeria speaks to a child in the classroom. She's wearing a vibrant pink headscarf.
The Support Mainstreaming Inclusion so all Learn Equally (SMILE) project in Kaduna, Nigeria is a community-driven inclusive education initiative to ensure all children can participate in their local school.

The project piloted the use of the Child Functioning Module: a set of questions created by the Washington Group/UNICEF to identify children who experience functional difficulties.

“It was a difficult road getting here”

Hajara tries hard to stay polite and focused while her father meets the head teacher of her school, but gradually the boredom overtakes her and she puts her head down on the desk. Spotting this, the teacher smiles and pats her on the head. He asks about her interests outside school and she’s suddenly more engaged; while her father talks about how she enjoys playing with dolls and pretending to cook, she makes the teacher laugh by interjecting: “I can also babysit!”

Hajara is one of the children who has benefited from the SMILE project through the Child Functioning Module, a questionnaire that helps schools to identify students who may have functional difficulties that could affect their learning. A parents’ guide also provides information on support networks and practical tips so they can support their child.

Hajara’s father shares how proud he is of his daughter. “She has so much sympathy and loves helping others. We don’t treat her any differently than her siblings. [At school] the interaction with other children was not smooth in the beginning because they were always making her cry, but it’s getting better. At home, the children are trying to help her instead of taunting her. It was a difficult road, but we got here.”

Hajara from Nigeria smiles broadly in her classroom. She's wearing a crisp white headscarf.

“She loves helping others. We don’t treat her any differently than her siblings”

Hajara’s father

Head teacher Sabo talks animatedly. He's wearing a vibrant patterned shirt.

“We have gained positive behaviours that will continue after the project is completed”

Sabo, head teacher

“The training I received has changed me”

Sabo, who leads one of the SMILE project pilot schools in Kaduna State, has been a head teacher for five years.

“After the training we received, so many things have changed in this school. The discrimination and bullying of pupils is no longer there, and the relationship between pupils and teachers has changed. The training has changed me. It has made me friendlier to the pupils.

“The school-based management committee members visit freely and we talk about the progress of the school and how learners can be helped. There are temporary ramps that we use for children with disabilities to access their classes easily, and the committee is planning to build permanent ramps.

“The school influences other schools around here. We meet with other schools’ management and head teachers to enlighten them on the importance of inclusive education and how to improve the enrolment of pupils with disabilities.

“We have also formed student clubs. To promote inclusion from their perspective, they created drama presentations to perform at local government level to communicate the importance of inclusive education. The long-term impact is we have gained positive behaviours that will continue after the project is completed.”

“The module has helped a lot”

Zachariah has been a teacher for 13 years. He has received inclusive education training and his school was chosen to be part of the SMILE project.

“Previously, parents of children with disabilities felt the children had no hope for the future and because of that, they did not bother enrolling them in school. But this programme has helped create awareness to the parents and they are beginning to see the importance of enrolling their children.

“We have received a lot of training on how to teach children with disabilities. There are some children that find it difficult to understand; we have to make time for them. This programme has made us understand that we need to be patient.

“Initially, the children’s peers were looking down on them and bullying them. We have been able to help them understand that children with disabilities are also as knowledgeable as they are. From then, they became more accommodating and now interact freely with them.

“Use of the Child Functioning Module is confidential and consent must be sought from the parents. You ask about the challenges the child is facing at home. As a teacher, the module has helped a lot. When I see a child, I now know what questions to ask and how to handle the child.

“My hope for these children with disabilities is to one day see them becoming governors, chairmen and presidents in this country.”

Watch the video below to learn more about the SMILE project.

Teacher Zachariah smiles at the camera.

“My hope for these children is to one day see them becoming governors, chairmen and presidents”

Zachariah, teacher

A classroom in Kenya, where a teacher hands out cards to students seated around a table.

Inclusive early childhood development and education project, Kenya

A classroom in Kenya, where a teacher hands out cards to students seated around a table.
By working with existing government structures and civil society, this project identifies affordable, sustainable approaches to inclusive early education for children with disabilities in selected pre-primary schools in Homa Bay and Kakuma refugee camp.

It also looks at ways to improve home-based care for children with multiple and complex disabilities, and how to make developmental assessments more accessible.

“Her progress has brought a lot of happiness”

Absalom has five children: Irene, his youngest, has a speech impairment and has difficulty remembering things. She is often excluded by other children who do not see her as being like them. When Absalom enrolled Irene in pre-school, the teacher explained that the inclusive education project would help to support her learning.

“There is a lot of improvement that I’ve seen in Irene that I [attribute to] the support and assistance that I’ve got. She can now mingle with the rest of the children, evenly and equally.

“Sightsavers took us, as parents of children who have disabilities, to a seminar. I learned a lot about what I can give my child and how I can manage her. The things I’ve learned have really helped me.

“There is a big change in Irene. Her progress has brought a lot of happiness to me. The society that I come from, and my village, saw Irene as a child who is disabled, who could not go anywhere, who could do nothing.

“Society now sees her as a very different person. I am now certain that she can learn, as I see her do the same things that other children do. Because of the programme, I am seeing her progressing well and she is giving me a lot of hope.”

Absalom smiles as he hugs Irene.

“Society now sees her as a different person. I’m now certain that she can learn”

Absalom, Irene’s father

Teacher Bradon smiles at the camera with a blackboard in the background.

“If children with disabilities are taken to school at the early levels, they will grow and learn together”

Bradon, pre-primary teacher

“They will feel they are part of society”

Bradon is a pre-primary school teacher from Homa Bay, Kenya who has been trained as part of the project.

“In my class, we support children with disabilities by adapting the resources we have to suit their needs. We try as much as possible to involve them in all the activities, without prejudice.

“Focusing on inclusion in early childhood development is very important… because that is when the children socialise and learn their belief patterns. If they’re not included at that point, they will have developed a sense of being left out. So if they’re taken to school at the early levels, they will grow and learn together.

“Each child with a specific difficulty is given an individualised education plan: this gives us a roadmap of what to do, how to do it, and the timeframe. We keep track of the child’s progress and the milestones they are achieving.

“We also have incentives for children with disabilities to come to school. We talk to the parents and share insights into the child’s performance. They also share history that we might not know, so that we understand the child better.

“The early childhood development project is very important. It should grow, so that we see how the children perform at the end of their academic cycle. In our school-based inclusion team we also have members of staff from the upper primary and lower primary – because when the children go to primary school, if they are not taken care of, then what we have done here would go to waste. So this should be escalated to the other levels.”

Images © Sightsavers/Kabantiok Solomon/Ninth Wonder Productions

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